The Right Words

My friend Michael and I had not a dinner together in a while. We had a regular dinner appointment on the second Tuesday of the month for years. But, then, life got in the way — mostly Michael’s. It changed rather dramatically a few months back. Not the least of which was being in a new relationship after years of not having been in one. So, I was willing to let our dinners take back seat. We’ve known each other for almost 20 years. He’d do the same for me.

So, it was great that we were finally able to get together recently over at a bistro near me. Dinner was great! Made especially good by the conversation. There was lot’s of catching up to do. We talked about life and love and creating the element of surprise in the seemingly mundane. We reminisced about the past and talked with excitement about future plans. Such things are what make a meal memorable.

But the memory of the evening that will stick out in my mind — the one that will last — came with desert. The waiter came over to ask if we wanted desert and describe our options. Among these was a type of pie neither Michael nor I had heard of before — Buttermilk Pie.

“What is that? I’ve never heard of it before.”, I asked. “What does it taste like?”

“It’s really hard to describe.”, explained the waiter. “But, I had a slice the other day and it is my new favorite pie. And, I’m not a big pie guy. If you order a slice. maybe you can weigh in.”

And, with that a gauntlet was thrown down — a challenge neither Michael nor I could refuse. The slices of pie were brought out and happily consumed. It was delicious. Yet, it was also immediately apparent why the waiter had such a hard time describing the taste. It was almost purposely elusive. The flavor was delicate. Not quite vanilla. Not sharp enough to even compare to a cheesecake. Nor was it creamy enough or sour enough or sweet enough to make an even comparison to anything else. It was almost cloud-like — etherial. Michael and I were both still at a loss when the waiter appeared again to take away our now empty plates.

“So, how’d you like it?”

“It was really good.”, I replied. Still unsure as to the answer to the obvious next question from the waiter.

“How would you describe it?”, he asked.

“It whispers tapioca.” Michael said with a sly smile after a considered pause. With those three words he completely nailed it. He managed to capture the entire experience of eating that slice of pie. He nailed the flavor, suggested the texture… All of it. The brilliance and exquisiteness of those three words left us speechless. Only nodding our heads in agreement and repeating them. It gave us all pause.

It is moments like this that I am reminded why I am a writer. I’m in love with and in awe of the power of language. The way a single word or just the right ones strung together can capture the whole of something otherwise only imagined. An entire experience can be encapsulated, examined, and then set free for others to bear witness to, all in an instant, with just three simple words.

This is why, as a writer, I keep a record of such reminders of this power. It’s a text file titled “Bits of Words and Wisdom”. Upon leaving the restaurant, adding “It whispers tapioca” to my file was my first priority. When I hear a cool word or interesting phrase that makes me stop and take notice — especially something that captures the imagination — I add it to this list. Sometimes, it is something from a conversation like the above. Increasingly, it is something I read — be it a book, a Tweet, or on a blog post. Sometimes it is from a video or something recorded. No matter the source it is added to this file soon after encountering it. Expedience is key, lest I forget it and lose it forever. Because these are the times to remember that words matter. Words mean things far beyond what you may find in a dictionary. Words are triggers and keys that blow open barriers and unlock doors to entire unknown universes.

The right ones are, at least.


I’m a writer. Writing is how I make this world better, friendlier, stronger place. If these words improved your day, please let me know by contributing here.

Without Much Notice (The Prairie Returns)

I love the little yellow flowers
that bloom this time of year
in the gardens
along the roadside
between the pavement cracks
in the places we otherwise
pass quickly by them
without much notice
a lost prairie fighting back
brilliant goldenrod
majestic sunflower
black eyed sue
reminding us
that this is its proper place
that these concrete roads
and planted spaces
are convenience and facade
these flowers reveal
that they have always belonged
that they will remain, here
while we will not
we will pass quickly by
without much notice
yet these flowers
will still bloom proudly
after we are gone
and the prairie returns

Getting Started (After Only Twenty Years)

There is a science fiction story I have had brewing in my head now for over twenty years. It started as just a very simple idea. A “what if” question. A spark of something. For years and years I brushed it aside whenever it popped into view. I always had, what I felt, were valid excuses for writing it off. Here’s how the dialog would most often happen inside my head…

“I’m not a fiction writer.”

“I’m certainly not a science fiction writer.”

“But, it’s a really good idea.”

“Maybe, it would be good to give to one of my friends that are, accomplished, science fiction writers.”

I would act on this. I would tell it to my sci-fi writer friends in passing. They would kindly hear me out, but express no real interest in stealing it from me. “It’s a good idea.”, they would say. “You should write it.”

“But I don’t know how?”, I would resign.

And, so, back into the the bin it would go. Only to pop back up next week/month/year. But, each time a little bit closer — more fully formed each time it returned. Closer to a real story.

The excuses to avoid it, therefore, had to become even more deft…

“I can see the story but I have no idea who would tell it.”

“Where is the voice of the story coming from?”

“Without a voice, you can’t tell a story.”

I would shove it into the bin again — with force and prudence. Convinced that this idea was beyond my reach creatively. It was not my genre. I had no voice. I only had rough ideas and sketches and major details. But, I had not the talent nor skill to weave together into a coherent narrative.

But the idea keeps coming back. It haunts me. It now wakes me up in the middle of the night. It keeps me from being able to rest. Each time getting closer. Showing me a little bit more of itself.

“Write.”, it says.

A few weeks back it gave me it’s voice. I now know who is telling the story and why. And, last night, It came to me in a dream. The opening scene at least. It was lucid while I was barely so. I saw our protagonist. I knew his motivations. It was a start. It was not the whole story. But, it was enough for me to get the opening lines down first thing this morning.

Y’weh sits on the bench with his face in his hands. He’s tired. Lately, he sits here in much the same position before the work day begins. Exhausted before he has even started. His lab coat feeling like a burial shroud. He’s been at this job for a very long time. And, if he could find another — if he had a choice — he would. But, once you start The Process, you can’t stop the stars. You have to see them through.

It may take me another twenty years to finish. But, today, I finally exhausted all of my excuses — I started.

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